Town manager job is hanging in the balanceBy Victoria Corbett
February 03, 2009
The jury is out on whether Wokingham’s departing town centre manager will be replaced.
Brian Newman handed in his notice last month having spent several months on long-term leave and has since accepted another job elsewhere in Berkshire, which he will be starting in March.
Mark Ashwell, chairman of Wokingham Chamber of Commerce, is urging Wokingham Borough Council to keep funding the role so it can continue to support traders.
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The council, which is currently considering staff redundancies as part of this year’s difficult budgeting process, has said a decision has yet to be made on whether Mr Newman will be replaced.
Mr Newman, who launched initiatives such as Wokingham Food and Drink Festival, said his reasons for leaving included some personal issues and some to do with the job itself.
“I am sad to leave because I thought that I had a lot of support from retailers and a lot of support from members of the public," he said.
“They thought I was doing some good things for Wokingham, unfortunately those things won’t happen this year.
"There is nothing planned in the diary.”
Mr Newman said he would be taking the popular food and drink festival format with him to his new job.
The event showcased local and international produce and local bands performed on stage in the evening.
Mr Newman said: “I must admit I feel sorry for the retailers, because they are not getting the support they need from the borough.
“I know the NAG [Wokingham Neighbourhood Action Group] try and do as much as they can.
“I think Mike Churcher [chairman of Wokingham NAG] will do a good job but he still needs the support of the council and if he can’t get support then nothing will happen.”
Mr Ashwell told The Wokingham Times he will be lobbying the borough council to keep a town centre manager.
He said: “I think we have got a really good opportunity here to recruit someone really good.”
Heather Thwaites, general manager of policy and partnerships at the council, said: “The council does not comment publicly on individual members of staff but I can confirm that Brian Newman has been the town centre manager for Wokingham for some two years, bringing events and initiatives to the town in order to boost its vibrancy and vitality.
“Brian has now tendered his resignation to pursue his personal career.
“This is an exciting time for Wokingham town, with progress being made on its redevelopment and we will be looking to work with the town council to see how we can jointly build a vibrant, sustainable town centre.”
Councillor Brian Willis, mayor of Wokingham town, paid tribute to Mr Newman’s hard work and called for the role, which is currently jointly funded by the borough and town councils, to continue.
He said: “I think if they do employ someone new then their position should be under the borough, the borough council should be his employer and day-to-day line manager rather than a shared responsibility between the town and borough councils.
“It is a very awkward situation to have and I do not think it works very well.”
Mr Newman leaves on Thursday next week and is serving his final weeks at home.